We’ve had the showdown, we’ve had Blake’s review and now the last part of what has accidentally become Sleeping Dogs week is here. Please read Blake’s review beforehand as at the end of this review our two reviews will be averaged to create the official X to Attack score.

Sleeping Dogs is for me an example of an open world done correctly. The map isn’t too large, a lot of the activities are condensed into the four cities represented in the game and the whole thing takes not much longer than 30 hours to fully complete. It never wears out its welcome. With a fluid combat system and a genuinely interesting story, Sleeping Dogs is a game that buries itself into the memory of many people who have played it over the years. After we both included it in an upcoming episode of our Favourite Games Podcast, myself and Blake decided to play through it again and grab the platinum trophy while we were there. This was my 23rd platinum (and I’ll probably cheekily grab the PS3 plat at some point too). Here are my final thoughts on Sleeping Dogs.

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Sleeping Dogs is a 2012 open-world martial arts game set in modern day Hong Kong. You play as Wei Shen (Will Yun Lee), an undercover police officer who has just arrived back into North Point from San Francisco in order to infiltrate the Sun On Yee – a triad. He uses his childhood friendship with a lackey called Jackie Ma (Edison Chen) to get into the Water Street branch of the gang, led by Winston Chu (Parry Shen) and despite some initial reservations from a couple members of the gang – especially Conroy (Robin Shou) who correctly suspects that Wei is a cop – Shen quickly becomes a trusted member.

In the middle of this he has to keep up regular contact with members of the police department. His CO, Thomas Pendrew (Tom Wilkinson) assigns Shen to this case due to his history with the gang and despite the objections of Raymond Mak (Byron Mann) he agrees to be Shen’s handler. Raymond and Shen do not get along and their debriefs are usually confrontational – Raymond is worried Shen is too much of a triad to do his job properly whereas Shen doesn’t want to play by Raymond’s rules.

Shen’s loyalties to both sides of the law are tested over and over again as the war between competing triads the Sun On Yee and the 18K escalates – while the civil war brewin within Sun On Yee for control of the triad continues to bubble over. Eventually Shen’s actions will change the fate of the Sun On Yee forever.

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There are around 30 missions in the game where you are helping out the Sun On Yee, whether it’s picking up extortion money from the local market stalls or finding the one who betrayed your boss so his mother can cut him up and make into soup. There are also four cases to do that allows Shen to do some police work to keep himself sane. Plus this is an open world game so there’s little side missions, races, collectables, clothes and vehicles to buy – all the good stuff. Outside of the main mission nothing requires a grind to complete and even the collectables are pretty easy thanks to the optional dates you can go on which unlock their positions on your map. One of these dates is with a character voiced by Emma Stone, which even in 2012 was strange that such a big name was used in such a small role. Lucy Liu also gets this treatment though her character has an impact on the story itself.

The cast is really strong with big names from both Western and Chinese media taking on the bigger roles. This would be a good time to say that this was originally a True Crime sequel – both True Crime games before this had big names in their cast. You can definitely see the DNA of that series here – the martial arts focus of the combat as well as the struggle between being a good cop and getting the job done right, especially when things become personal. However, whereas Streets of L.A. was somewhat mediocre (and I never played Streets of New York) – Sleeping Dogs blows it out of the water in every way.

The combat is fluid – Shen can kick one guy in the face and then you can switch focus to kick another guy in the face in a different direction. Think the Arkham games but with more of a focus on hitting combos. Groups of enemies will circle you and attack you one at a time, glowing red when they are ready to attack and giving you a chance to press TRIANGLE (on the PS3/PS4 versions) to counter. As you attack and counter a little yellow meter opposite of your health bar will fill up – this is your face meter and when it fills up your health will start to come back but also your attacks have a little extra spice to them.

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There are different kinds of enemies like all good beat-’em-ups should have – you got large enemies that will counter any grab attempt you make, strong enemies that have to be grabbed as they will defend against your strikes and the weapon assholes who use weapons and are assholes. Luckily as you progress through the game you will level up both cop and triad levels which unlock upgrades that help you out in fighting situations. In addition, you will come across various statues of animals – each one representing the animals of the Chinese calendar. Each time you return this to your old martial arts instructor he will teach you a new move. All of these moves are super useful in their own way and it also includes my personal favourite move in the entire game – the leg break. It’s an early unlock too – Wei grabs the enemy, breaks his leg which stuns him (later you unlock a stun attack too which means the leg break is a perfect set up for a powerful move).

Of course Wei is by himself a powerful weapon but you can also attack using melee weapons dropped by enemies or pedestrians or simply anything that is lying around. One of the most powerful weapons in the game is a big ass fish. It will generally knock weaker enemies out in one hit. There’s also the usual weapons like a baton, knives, machete, cleaver, umbrella and handbags too – many ways to beat your enemies black and blue.

In some missions, especially from the halfway point, you will be required to engage in gunfights. Sleeping Dogs offers some good shootin’, where the emphasis is still on stylish moves to get you more triad experience. You can vault over obstacles and then press the aim button to slow down time, giving Wei time to go for the headshot. You can also do this when an enemy is on the other side to do a vault disarm which is useful if you’ve either run out or are running out of ammo. There are usually some other ways to make these gunfights more funfights, with explosive barrels placed strategically to allow you to blow the everloving life out of everyone in its path.

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The game is very stylish and has the substance to back it up. Even during driving gunfights the game finds a way to make it look visually good with cars jumping ten feet in the air if you shoot one of their tires out, this causes the game to slow down allowing you to combo several cars if you’re accurate enough. Driving itself is fine, some cars you get are great and some are not. I had some weird issues with the camera in certain areas trying to reverse. Occasionally when reversing the car will just go backwards at super speed which is disorientating.

This alludes to a bigger problem with the game – there are some technical hiccups here and there. I’m judging purely on the Definitive Edition on the PS4 as I don’t remember what it was like on the PS3 version and I know Blake had it worse than I did, but I still encountered a few issues. Camera occasionally bugging out was one, there was a couple of times where I was in the middle of a fight and an enemy had lodged itself inside a car. There was a whole day I couldn’t access the social hub to see my scores during the showdown. And yeah, my game crashed a couple of times here and there.

Traversing the open world is very free, Wei can climb up walls pretty easily and there is a highway that circles the entire map which means that no area is more than five minutes away. However, there are some places where it looks like Wei should be able to climb up only for him to offer a weak attempt at jumping up. The free running is fun until you get to a roadblock like this – it doesn’t happen often but it’s very noticeable when it does.

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In each mission you are given two experience bars – Police and Triad. Police starts at three badges and goes down whenever you do anything to harm the public – property damage, killing civilians etc. The triad experience goes up whenever you do anything that helps your reputation within the Sun On Yee – defeating enemies, countering, environmental moves etc. There are plenty of side missions which increases your police experience and if you keep up with them as they pop up you’ll be a level 10 cop in no time. Triad experience is harder to come by and by the end of the game I had to replay a good portion of the missions WITH clothes that gave me extra triad experience and I still barely scraped by. It just feels the requirements to get full triad experience in each mission is a little too extreme.

Still, that’s quickly veering off into nitpick terrority. Sleeping Dogs is a fantastic game that is very often on sale for very cheap and it’s definitely worth picking up especially if you like martial arts and/or open world games. The Definitive Edition also comes with all the DLC including a fun car you’ll do missions for in the actual game which eventually turns into a superfast deathmobile, the Zodiac Tournament which is a pastiche of a 70s martial arts film as well as the two seperate DLCs Year of the Snake and Nightmare in North Point – neither of which are required to play for the platinum.

Speaking of, the platinum took me around 33 hours (admittedly, I did spend a lot of time messing around to get better stats for the showdown) and the game was just about to lose it’s novelty by the time I got it. I rushed through the Zodiac Tournament as it was the last thing I needed for the platinum so I probably didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have otherwise but otherwise this is a fairly easy platinum albeit one that will take a little time. There are no missable trophies so everything can be done in one playthrough.

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Overall though, Sleeping Dogs remains one of my favourite open world games and an example of how to do a game like this right: a decent sized map but a good amount of content condensed into a fairly small space means downtime is rare in Sleeping Dogs. The story is well written, although occasionally things will happen off screen and the game will act like Wei knows certain things that we don’t, either suggesting there’s some cut content or that months have passed since the last mission without much indication to the player. Again I’m nitpicking – the story has twists and turns, characters you like dying and characters you hate dying. The game does a very good job at humanising certain characters to the point where you care about them when things start hitting the fan.

This game is definitely worth playing even in 2020 and with potential sequels being cancelled and looking increasingly unlikely and a movie that was in the works (though I’ve not heard much about that in a while either), this might just end up being the only taste of Sleeping Dogs we get. It started life as a sequel to True Crime but it had potential to spin off into its own franchise. However if this is the only Sleeping Dogs we ever get then we can be happy enough that we got one very fun game.

STU’S SCORE

five stars

OVERALL XTA SCORE (Blake’s Score + Stu’s Score/2)

five stars

 

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